Lerwick nursery fears new pre-school scheme will force its closure
A private nursery has warned it could close for good after being denied a part in the widespread expansion of free early learning and childcare hours for pre-school children.
Peerie Foxes in Lerwick says it is facing a “critical” situation after its plea to be granted “partner provider” status for three to five-year-olds was turned down by the SIC.
The council is rolling out a flagship Scottish government policy aimed at almost doubling the number of free nursery hours offered to each toddler to 1,140 by August next year.
But it says it already provides enough spaces for children.
Peerie Foxes manager Caroline Henderson says her business is unable to sustain the loss of three to five-year-olds who will switch to council-funded nurseries in order to enjoy the free hours.
She has written to parents outlining the threat it is now facing.
Her letter states: “Although a somewhat separate part of the business from looking after our under-threes, we cannot sustain a downturn of nearly 60 per cent of business turnover, which is what the current wraparound care provided to three to five-year-olds represents.
“Please add your support to our plea for fair inclusion in the council’s rollout of ELC [early learning and childcare].”
Speaking to The Shetland Times, she added: “The only thing affecting our financial sustainability is the gradual depletion of the three to five-year-old care we provide with the [extended] hours being rolled out.
“This year, the afternoon care we provide to three to five-year-olds represents a 55 per cent downturn, just in cold, hard numbers.
“Obviously, we have younger children but then again they’ll be turning three and going elsewhere if we can’t get partner provider status.”
She has called on parents to support the nursery’s plea for “fair inclusion” in the council’s early learning extension.
Earlier this month the Central Private Nursery and Out of School Club in Sandwick announced it was closing with the loss of two jobs after 20 years in business.
Its decision to close came after job advertisements failed to attract a single applicant.
Peerie Foxes employs six but Ms Henderson said that was down from 12 workers. She said attempts to recruit more staff had been put on hold.
“I’ve been putting above average wage increases to the staff. They’re really good workers. But I can’t compete with the islander’s allowance, the final salary pension and all the other benefits [paid to council employees].”
She added: “It’s critical. It’s only ever been the rollout that’s affected us. The council shouldn’t be putting private businesses out of business.”
“It’s critical. It’s only ever been the rollout that’s affected us. The council shouldn’t be putting private businesses out of business.” CAROLINE HENDERSON
Shetland Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison said: “The council already had sufficient capacity within existing capacity so no additional providers were commissioned.
“When the offer was made to parents, it was within existing provision and the number of parents who have accepted, or sought, those places meant there was sufficient capacity within the system already to meet that need. There were no more places required to meet that demand.”
Ms Henderson pointed to Scottish government guidance relating to early learning and childcare which gives parents and carers access to any setting.
“The council says it has got enough provision – they don’t need to get any more in. If that’s the case, where is the parental choice?”
But Mrs Sandison added new guidance had yet to be implemented.
“There is new legislation and guidance coming out from the Scottish government which applies from August 2020, which is the policy that the money follows the child.
“At this moment that legislation and that guidance has not been implemented. That is something that, obviously, the council is working on. We are developing a response to this new provision.
“We recognise that parental choice is part of how the government wish to see this rolled out. We need to be prepared for August 2020 and make sure parents have the ability to make choices around where provision for their child will be made.
“But at the moment, within the current regime, parents are asked if they want to take up an existing place. We haven’t needed to seek any additional capacity for the number of parents that have indicated that they want a place.”
She added: “We certainly recognise the importance of what’s being offered by other parts of the sector because people need flexibility and choice. The government are clearly rolling out early learning and childcare and we are responding to that requirement. The intention certainly isn’t to prevent people from providing private childcare.
“We do recognise that there has been some impact by parents making choices about where they will take places in future.”
She added the council had carried out a study to understand where its increasing workforce was coming from.
“So far we’re not seeing a vast number of staff moving from the private sector into council,” she said.